Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that playing the latest video games without 4K at 120Hz is essentially missing out.
After all, in theory, higher numbers always mean better when it comes to the world of tech, or specifically, resolutions. And 4K at 120Hz is simply the latest and greatest iteration.
But is it the same in practice? Do you need 4K and 120Hz?
Well, the answer depends. For gamers taking advantage of the latest consoles, a 4K TV with a 120Hz refresh rate is beneficial and will help you get the most out of your console.
However, a 60Hz refresh rate will do fine for general TV and movie-watching. Still, there are exceptions to the rule and a few other factors that come into play.
If you wish to learn more, this article will go over a detailed breakdown of refresh rates, resolutions, benefits, and everything else in between.
First off, what’s 4K? And why does it matter so much?
Well, at its core, a 4K display features at least 8 million active pixels instead of the 2 million pixels that a full HD TV with 1080p resolution has.
This means that 4K has four times the pixel amount of your standard HD TV, hence the name “4K.”
Televisions also follow the standard resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. The first number is a horizontal measurement, while the latter is vertical to fit the standard 16:9 aspect ratio.
On the other hand, 4K digital cinema has a slightly higher pixel count at 4,096 x 2,160 to fit the 1.85:1 aspect ratio that theaters use.
Manufacturers achieve this by making each pixel on your screen four times smaller, resulting in a clearer, sharper image with more accurate color, assuming you are playing content with the exact resolution.
Furthermore, these 8 million pixels are best utilized on larger screens where each one is assigned a small slice of the entire picture, so 4K TVs are usually 40 inches or more in size.
For those that love streaming shows and movies, this means watching in the highest quality, letting you appreciate visuals like never before.
For gamers, this means being able to play the latest 4K-ready video games with superb visual fidelity. It also means more screen real estate with the most incredible detail, letting you experience gaming on a completely different level.
This high level of fidelity is not without its downsides, however.
Now that we know all about 4K resolution let’s talk about refresh rates, commonly referred to as Hz.
First off, note that displays are never static. Each of the pixels on your screen is active, meaning that they are constantly updating to play their part in the bigger picture.
This instance is known as refreshing since your display is continuously “refreshing” to show moving images. Measured in Hertz (Hz), the more times your display refreshes, the smoother the resulting content and motion will be.
In the past, many televisions stuck to the standard 60Hz output because of hardware limitations. It also keeps costs low for both manufacturers and consumers.
However, HDMI 2.1 removed that limitation, enabling higher video output bandwidth to deliver more data and higher resolutions.
And so, 120Hz displays are made, capable of refreshing 120 times per second to reduce any choppiness and make any motion silky-smooth. Compared to older iterations, this 120Hz is twice as fast as a 60Hz monitor and four times faster than 30Hz panels.
They’re also now widely available, so anyone looking to upgrade from their monitor will likely take a new one home with 120Hz capabilities.
Is 120Hz Worth It for Movies and Video Games?
While 120Hz and its technology are fascinating, the discussion of whether it’s worth it for movies and video games is more or less contentious.
The amount of pixels that 4K contains makes it a demanding format to render.
Thus, despite the abundance of 4K TVs, 1440p and 1080p help offset the demand and offer a more stable experience.
Those who have the budget for it will find high-end TVs that can provide a stable 4K 120Hz experience.
However, there is a bigger problem. To output 4K at 120Hz, your television must have an HDMI 2.1 port, as this is capable of handling data rates of 32.08Gbps or more.
Unfortunately, the HDMI Licensing Administrator has recently made things a bit trickier by saying that HDMI 2.0 ports can be labeled as HDMI 2.1, although they are different.
As a quick comparison, HDMI 2.0 can only output 120Hz content at 1080p resolution, 4x fewer pixels than 4K.
Because of this discrepancy, TV buyers have to be more discerning by looking at the TV’s fine print to check for true 4K 120Hz capabilities.
On top of that, since most shows shoot at 24 frames per second, refresh rates higher than 60Hz often provide a surreal effect, making the footage appear faster than it’s supposed to be.
This motion can be unsettling for shows with a slower pace, so it’s generally recommended to disable the higher refresh rate in shows where the focus is on people’s faces.
With video games, it’s an entirely different story. 4K 120Hz for video games means more fluid animations and smoother gameplay, making it ideal for fast-paced titles like first-person shooters and racing games where reaction time is essential.
There’s no lag getting in the way so that you can play better. That said, it’s not without its caveats.
There are very few next-generation titles that can output at this resolution and refresh rate. 4K 120Hz is still too demanding, and it will take some time for developers to fully catch up, especially when there are still plenty of gamers using last-generation consoles and hardware.
In short, because 120Hz at 4K gaming is still new, gamers will have to wait some time before it completely penetrates the market and provides more options.
However, when it works, it really works. The current list of games that support 120Hz at 4K includes:
- The latest Call of Duty Titles
- Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition
- Gears 5
- Borderlands 3
- Halo: Infinite
So, while it is worth it for those willing to spend the money, 4K 120Hz is not quite there yet for broader availability in newer game titles.
With the latest console generation, triple-A game publishers and developers should be able to focus on releasing titles that run natively at 4K 120Hz. However, only time will tell how soon that will be.
Which Consoles Support 4K 120Hz?
The latest console generation supports 4K 120Hz, which means that the Xbox Series X and the Sony PlayStation 5 can offer you this experience.
What’s great about these gaming consoles is that they’re set up to detect whether your TV can support the high resolution before setting their outputs accordingly.
During the last console generation, gaming consoles only maxed at 60Hz, which is half the refresh rate of today’s 120Hz televisions and monitors.
These newer consoles often have a 4K 120Hz diagnostic screen that can help you check whether your console is connected to the correct HDMI port on your TV.
Most TVs that support this resolution and refresh rate only have one (or two) HDMI ports that can run it.
As long as you have a compatible TV and suitable video games on these consoles, you should be able to enjoy gaming at 4K and 120Hz easily.
If you’re more of a PC gamer, a few premium PC cards can support this output. Some of the more notable examples include the AMD Radeon RX 6800, RX 6900, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090, 3080, or the Twin Edge 3060 GPUs, but these GPUs often come at a high price.
Is 120Hz the Same As 120FPS?
While these two things are very much related, they are not synonymous.
As mentioned above, 120Hz means that your TV or monitor can refresh 120 times. At the same time, FPS (frames per second) indicates the number of video frames in a particular video file, stream, or videogame.
Furthermore, the refresh rate depends on your monitor, while the FPS is limited by the number of frames your computer can generate. Generally, the refresh rate is a cap on how many FPS your unit can output.
So even if you have a unit or video game that can reach as much as 200+ FPS, a 60Hz monitor wouldn’t be able to provide the smoothness you’re expecting,
Do I Really Need 4K 120Hz?
Ultimately, it all depends on your preference.
If you have the budget and want the smoothest and latest gaming experience, then 4K 120Hz is the way.
Furthermore, it’s also a good way of future-proofing yourself, as you’ll be able to easily experience later media that will be rendered in the same resolution when they eventually come out.
However, if you don’t care about refresh rates all that much, then a 1440p monitor that can go up to 120Hz is also a great choice.
While it might take a few or so years, there’s no denying that 4K 120Hz (especially in gaming) is becoming more and more established, so anyone into tech should have a lot to look forward to.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that you should go out and immediately replace your monitor, especially if it’s still working just fine. It’s still a long road ahead, so better sit tight.
Vance is a dad, former software engineer, and tech lover. Knowing how a computer works becomes handy when he builds Pointer Clicker. His quest is to make tech more accessible for non-techie users. When not working with his team, you can find him caring for his son and gaming.